Home Energy and Environment “Coal Has Not Been Good for West Virginia.”

“Coal Has Not Been Good for West Virginia.”


West Virginia blogger Debra Dean Murphy has an op-ed in today’s Charleston Gazette taking on the myth that her state owes whatever prosperity it has to coal:

Lest I be misunderstood, let me say, as clearly as I can, that I don’t in any way denigrate the risky work that coal miners do, nor the sense of accomplishment they rightly feel in their vocation.

But here’s the thing: I worry, at least a little, when generations of West Virginians – whether they’re connected to coal mining or not – absorb this notion that they are beleaguered and put-upon, the most-derided in our culture, and then turn that woundedness into a kind of guarded bravado that refuses to reckon with some hard, uncomfortable truths.

To say we’re proud of coal miners without acknowledging that for decades miners have been given the shaft – literally – by greedy coal companies does not serve the long-term well-being of those who do this dirty, dangerous work. And, sure, we should pray for the victims of this most recent tragedy, but we should also do the holy, pressing work of challenging an industry that enriches absentee corporate shareholders while sucking the life out of the people and places it needs for its pursuit of profit at any cost.

This latest disaster should not be one more occasion for West Virginians to turn their latent defensiveness into full-blown denial of what’s really going on. Here’s the truth: Coal has not been good for West Virginia. Coal has been good for corporations. After more than a century of extracting this valuable resource from the earth, the considerable profits it has generated have gone elsewhere.

Takes a lot of guts for someone to stand up to their state’s status quo and call it like it is. Read more from Debra at her blog.

  • Pain

    If anyone is interested and has the opportunity, you should find and watch the documentary:


    It’s quite good, and very sad.  My family is from WV and my father worked with my grandfather briefly in the mines before going into the navy and then attending college on the GI-bill after the war.

    Because of the rural isolation of those mountains, it was easy to take advantage of the people, first by the timber barons and then the coal industry.

  • Otter

    There’s coal and oil and gas.  If it weren’t for those commodities, where WOULD the state be?  I would say coal (as a commodity) HAS been very good for WV.  And you need Coal Corporations in order to get COAL out of the ground and to the market.  

    I certainly hope you are not advocating the State mine the coal and redistribute the wealth back to the workers.  If so, you might want to look how that worked elsewhere first.

    How, specifically, would you change the status quo, btw, more regulation?  Higher corporate taxes?  More unions?  That also is fraught with unintended consequences.  Try thinking through some of these issues before you have a knee jerk reaction.

    Finally, “HOLY, pressing work”?  Important? Maybe. But hardly religious in nature.  Try to write without using flashpoint words if you can.

  • I’ve now taken many hours to think about this article, before posting, because I’m not exactly sure what I want to say.  In some ways I agree with her.  There have been books written about the incredible wealth taken out of the state without giving anything in return.  The second largest city, Huntington (named for an industrialist) exists because someone from NY created a railroad terminus there.  When you go to our Universities and cities and towns, there are no great names on the (mostly modest) buildings the way you see them in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New York.  Why?  Because a lot of the money for buildings in those great cities came from West Virginia.

    But I’m more dubious about at least some of her claims about the people.  I know plenty of West Virginians who aren’t beaten down and who haven’t let their circumstances define them, and I really really don’t like being told that this is some sort of false pride.  (I have plenty of honest-to-God pride enough already!!)  Maybe the best way I know to tell the difference.  If someone were to ask ME the question, “What do all of the rest of you make fun of?” I would answer, also without having to think about it, “Death.”  (I’ll point to my comments in the Creigh Deeds/WashPost article where I said his comment made me “laugh out loud.”)

    This is an old argument that has been fought out (mostly among West Virginia academics, of whom Ms. Murphy is one and  let’s admit it, given the speaking I’ve done in schools and universities, a credible case could be made that I am too.)  It’s a huge topic internally, and not one without merit on both sides.  It won’t end here.  

    (rueful grin) There’s always a civil war going on in WV!